Losing your freedom to head out on an adventure is difficult to handle, but at least it has allowed time to perform mods on 4WDs or camper trailers, ready for the day when borders reopen. For some, that day has come, and the Corner Country is calling!
Camped on the banks of the Darling River, just out of Pooncarie, it only takes a couple of days to reach Cooper Creek at Innamincka. However, there are a couple of detours worth exploring instead of taking the well-worn route north. You’ll also get to experience a couple of excellent outback national parks, Mutawintji and Sturt.
MUTAWINTJI NATIONAL PARK
Mutawintji National Park is accessed by taking the Mutawintji Road, 54km north of Broken Hill, off the Silver City Highway. The road is dirt most of the way but is generally well maintained. Once across the boundary cattle grid, the first stop is the Visitors Centre (always open but unstaffed so self-serve), where you’ll find vital information about the park, as well as flushing toilets, gas barbecues and a book library (inside an old drink vending machine of all things).
Timing is everything when you’re visiting Mutawintji, and the best way to learn how culturally significant the land is to the Malyankapa and Pandjikali people is by joining a tour of the Historic Site — check availability. This area has been an important meeting place for thousands of years, with communities performing initiations and other ceremonies, and contains one of the largest rock art collections in NSW.
The solitary campground at Homestead Creek offers good camping facilities including tables, firepits, gas barbecue, flushing toilets and solar-heated showers in a recently renovated ablutions block. The sites are well spaced, perfect to park your camper trailer. Though un-numbered, they do need to be pre-booked online.
There are several walking trails within the park, including the 6km return Mutawintji Gorge walk, one which Burke and Wills also traversed on 24 October 1860, with Wills describing it as “a romantic gorge”. At the end of this picturesque gorge is a semi-permanent waterhole and the perfect spot to enjoy lunch.
A short walk along the Thaaklatjika Mingkana trail leads to a rock art site that includes paintings, stencils and engravings, a couple of which were vandalised by William Wright, a member of Burke and Wills' team. The trail then links up with the 5.6km Rockholes Loop walking track, and a steep hike is rewarded with more rock art and spectacular views of Homestead Gorge and the Bynguano Ranges.
From Mutawintji, it’s an interesting drive to Milparinka, another great little detour. Along the way, keep an eye out for the sculptures along Henry Roberts Road. As hard as I’ve tried, the who and why behind them remains unknown, but they’re certainly creative.
A visit to Milparinka isn’t complete without a walk around the heritage district, a cold beer at the pub and a drive out to Depot Glen. Here you’ll discover the grave of James Poole, who succumbed to scurvy on 17 July 1845. Poole was second in charge of Charles Sturt’s exploration party, who were trapped here due to harsh conditions from January to July 1845.
STURT NATIONAL PARK
Tibooburra has a caravan park, motel, a couple pubs and a petrol station/supermarket, but nearby Sturt National Park has a few great campsites worth checking out. Mount Wood is a great stop with good facilities including non-potable water and free gas barbecues beside a small billabong.
Nearby are the historic remains of the Mt Wood wool scour as well as numerous pieces of farming gear used when this was a pastoral run. The old shearing shed across the dry creek bed is accessed via a suspension bridge. The original bridge lies twisted and smashed by raging waters of years gone by.
The Gorge Loop Road is a fantastic way to experience the eastern section of the park. There's a great lookout over the rocky landscape at the gorge and a walk up to the top of Mount Wood just up the road. Not much changes out here, except when it rains, but that’s so rare it makes you wonder how anything survives.
Nature is funny though, as it always seems to adapt to the conditions and find a way to survive. The kangaroos are a case in point. When it does rain and food and water become plentiful, kangaroos breed like crazy and hang in huge mobs, but when it's dry and nasty, they perish in large numbers, leaving just enough to pick up again when conditions are favourable.
You’ll also pass the ruins of Horton Park Outstation before reaching the Silver City Highway and the start of the Jump Up Loop Road that winds its way through the western section. Drought and budget cuts have sucked this national park dry and a solitary ranger performs a mammoth task, looking after more than 34,000 hectares.
A bird hide at South Myers Tank is home to a community of swallows, as the water dried up long ago. The jump ups are spectacular, offering panoramic views across the plains down toward Tibooburra. There’s a campground at Olive Downs offering the same facilities as Mt Wood, and a little further on you’ll reach the Olive Downs Homestead complex, complete with a tennis court.
From here the track via Middle Road is ‘4WD Only’ and once you reach the dunes you’ll understand why. If your camper trailer has high clearance, you’ll have no worries. Out to your right, you may get your first glimpse of the longest fence in the world — the Dog Fence. The road turns south-west down to Binerah Well then heads north-west to the ruins at Binerah Downs.
From here it’s another 34km to the Fort Grey campground. Sturt’s party had erected a stockade to protect their supplies and prevent their sheep from wandering, but there’s nothing left of it now.
Imagine been awoken from your dreams by a crowing rooster in the middle of a national park — that’s what happened, and I wasn’t happy. From here it’s easy to follow the signs to Cameron Corner, through the Dog Fence, stopping at the corner post where NSW, SA and QLD meet, then the obligatory cold beverage at the Corner Store.
Then head west, past Bollards Lagoon and the old Bore Track (closed now, but what a great drive that was). There are some big dunes to cross, but the road is generally well maintained. If you see a branch on the track or a hazard sign, take care as there could be a blow out on the other side of the dune, which is dangerous if hit at speed.
It’s 117km from the border to the Strzelecki Track, then another 49km to the lookout of the Moomba Refinery. Continuing east along the Strzelecki, you’ll reach the intersection with the old Strzelecki Track after 34km. When dry, this is a fantastic way to get to Innamincka as it follows the Strzelecki Creek. If wet, follow the main route via Dillons Highway/Strzelecki Track.
The first stop in Innamincka was the Trading Post to purchase a Desert Parks Pass, then across to the pub to enjoy a cold beverage and check phone messages, as Telstra and Optus both have service in Innamincka. Next job is to find a campsite and the Cullymurra Waterhole is a great option, with the cost covered by your Desert Parks Pass. There are several sites amongst the coolabahs with drop toilets the only facilities dotted throughout. Otherwise, you’ll need to be self-reliant.
A visit to the sites where Burke and Wills perished and King was found months later is a ‘must-do’. I always feel a sense of sadness when visiting the spot where Burke was found leaning against a coolabah, his rusting pistol still in his hand. The Expedition to cross the continent by Burke, Wills, King and Gray may have been successful, but in the end, it was terribly tragic.
The Dig Tree circuit trail is a great way to explore this part of the country. With stunning backdrops of mesas and jump-ups, in a land devoid of much else. The often-dry waterways are obvious; that’s the only place you’ll find trees.
Don’t forget to check out the Dig Tree on Cooper Creek at Nappa Merrie, where Burke and Wills set up camp before heading north to the Gulf, and on their return sadly missed their rescue party by mere hours, the fire still hot. The tree blazes have long since grown over and now there are some suggestions that the tree we all stand next to for photos isn’t even the right one!
The 15km section of the Arrabury Road can be slow going, with sharp and aggressive stones just itching to slash a sidewall or stab between your tyre lugs. Once on the circuit road, the going is generally good as it’s also used as a bypass of the Cooper Creek when it’s in flood.
Innamincka Bore no. 1 was outputting a small amount of water, but the tank was empty, as were the water troughs. Not a beast was sighted on the entire drive.
After 59km and a border crossing back into South Australia, you’ll reach the Cordillo Downs Road. It’s only 3km back to Innamincka, crossing the Cooper Creek on your way into the township.
Camping is permitted along the Cooper Creek with plenty of places on the town common for $5 per night. Drop toilets are scattered about the place and a gold coin will get you a welcome shower at the ablution bock opposite the Trading Post.
Relax on a sunset cruise on the Cooper aboard the Kingfisher with drinks and finger food while learning about the history, birdlife, flora and fauna of the Cooper Creek.
Back in Innamincka, why not spend some time exploring the historic AIM Museum and Visitor Interpretive Centre and discover how important the Inland Mission Hospital, Nursing Home and Flying Doctor base (established in 1929) was to the township and surrounding pastoral properties?
In fact, at one stage, Innamincka used to house a blacksmith, a school, police station, pub and saddler. It was also an important customs depot, collecting taxes from drovers who were moving cattle between Queensland and South Australia and down the Strzelecki Stock Route.
The RAMSAR-listed Coongie Lakes is a long day’s return drive (around 210km return) or the perfect place to experience serene camping. Because it is an important habitat for a large number of breeding birds that migrate, motorboats, fires, fishing and generators are not permitted. However, canoeing, photography and bushwalking are more than welcome and a great way to enjoy the true wilderness.
There is so much to experience in the Corner Country. All the towns and businesses are excited to have you come and visit, so what are you waiting for?
WHERE: Mutawintji National Park is in NSW, 158km from Broken Hill.
Sturt National Park is in NSW, 425km north of Broken Hill.
Innamincka is in South Australia, 498km from Lyndhurst, 702km from Broken Hill and 430km from Thargomindah.
PERMITS: A South Australian Desert Parks Pass ($44 multi-parks for two months or $99 multi-parks for 12 months) is required to access Innamincka Regional Reserve and can be purchased online or at the Innamincka Trading Post. You can also buy a day pass the same way ($11 per day or $9 per day concession).
FUEL: Tibooburra and Innamincka provide unleaded and diesel fuel.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: April–September as the weather is generally cooler and there's a reduced chance of rain.
MORE INFO: Paper maps are a wealth of information, with the Hema Maps range providing excellent coverage and some form of electronic navigation/mapping hardware/software such as the Hema HX-1 is recommended also. See the following websites: